Sir Michael Atiyah, who died this January aged 89, was one of the leading mathematicians of his generation and a dedicated supporter of freedom and justice for the Palestinians and other Arab peoples.
The British-Lebanese scholar achieved the highest accolades in his field during a career that spanned seven decades. In 1966 Sir Michael won the prestigious Fields Medal, which has been described as the Nobel prize for mathematics, for his groundbreaking work on K-theory. He was elected Fellow of the Royal Society and later served as its President from 1990, in the same year returning to his alma mater Trinity College, Cambridge as Master.
Sir Michael was also known for his outspoken defence of the rights of the Palestinians, and as Fobzu Patron was committed to advancing Palestinian education. Current President of the Royal Society, Venki Ramakrishnan, describes Sir Michael as a ‘true internationalist’, who also campaigned for international nuclear disarmament and against the US-UK invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003.
Sir Michael spoke poetically about the mission of mathematicians and scientists. The search for truth was never a cold endeavour but one for which ‘beauty is our guiding light’ inspired by the ‘mystery of the heavens’.
We are deeply grateful for Sir Michael’s long service as a patron of Fobzu and supporter of Palestinian rights.
Sir Michael Francis Atiyah, mathematician, born 22 April 1929; died 11 January 2019.